Labour is a Berlin-based music duo comprised of artists Farahnaz Hatam and Colin Hacklander. Often experimental and unconventional, Labour’s work promotes high sensory awareness and active listening —  in open protest to an era of ferocious, fast-paced music consumerism. For their most recent collaboration with fashion collective GmbH, the duo gave life to An Anthology of Music for Fashion Shows 2016-2023 Vol. 1, a collection of sonic environments to accompany GmbH’s runways. In this interview, Labour chats to METAL about the relationship between fashion and sound, their political mission, and the importance of a collective sense of care.
First off, how did the project Labour come about? How did you guys meet?
In 2011 we met in Berlin and our very first show together was at a high-rise flat in Moscow in 2012; this was followed by a commission to create a composition focused on  los sonidos de la guerra (the sounds of war) by ERTZ Festival in Bera, Spain.  At the time we went by our last names, Hacklander / Hatam.
In 2015, we closed the experimental music venue we were running and started a public reading group with our friends Mattin and Sacha Kahir that sought to understand the external conditioning of our own construction of being, through themes such as linguistics, gender and sexuality, economics, spirituality, etc with writers such as Wilfrid Sellars, Paul B. Preciado, Monique Wittig, Shulamith Firestone, Feuerbach and so on.
At some point while studying Karl Marx, we came across an early definition of work as “the ontologically fundamental productive activity in and through which one becomes what one is.”  This felt quite expansive, something that could act as both an umbrella and kind of base from where to continue our life’s works as artists, so the name stayed in our minds as we moved into the next phase and towards increasingly larger scale works.
In 2018, our first piece next time, die consciously was an audio-visual expanded-concert composed for two drum sets, bass clarinet, electronics and thirty percussionists scattered throughout the room plus algorithmically controlled LED strobes dispersed through the audience with video. The work was commissioned by Berlin Atonal as the closing act of the festival on its main stage — this was the beginning of Labour.
Back in April, you released a musical anthology featuring original tracks used in fashion shows, particularly from the fashion collective GmbH — what drew you to this collective? How did the partnership start?
We met Benjamin Alexander Huseby and Serhat Isik in 2019 after they saw a piece we made for the Sharjah Biennial.  The first runway show we collaborated on ended up being a video work due to the pandemic, and we’ve since created original music for several more of their shows.  It became clear from our first meeting that we shared a lot in common on a human sympathetic as well as intellectual level. We were drawn to this perfect storm of shared aesthetic values, ambition and righteous intent.
GmbH has always been a leading model for platforming righteous discourse and initiating positive change within contexts bent on normalisation.  While previous generations of avant-gardists were interested in transgressive methods such as shock, confrontation and so on, we feel like our moment now, also due to the total subsumption of capitalism we find ourselves in, is more about finding new methods of being together and also finding ways into the system to instigate change; so a feeling that the most effective change now comes from within the system rather than outside it.  This is said from a desire of wanting to create new worlds, of trying with limited success, or only temporarily, at operating from the outside.
In pop culture, we often talk about the importance of movie soundtracks — so much that Best Original Score is a category at the Oscars. Yet, musical compositions for fashion shows aren’t as broadly discussed. What do you think is the role of music during a fashion event? How do you go about composing a piece for a clothing brand?
It’s a good point — there should be such an award for original music in fashion!
Benjamin and Serhat work with concepts that influence their decisions in design, which can include a film or a book or an idea, always sociological and political in content.  We then meet, discuss, see sketches, feel materials, listen to music, and eventually respond to these ideas to generate compositional approaches which complement and accentuate. Whether it’s Welt Am Draht, a simulation of a world, throwing into question the nature of reality; or White Noise, referencing white bourgeois culture in an act of reverse appropriation, highlighting the tendency of white designers to appropriate from other cultures; or Talisman, a specific piece of protective clothing or jewellery or text meant to protect the wearer against harm.
Music contextualises the experience, as does the space, the setting, intermittently sweeping the listener away before returning to its supportive role. The best music co-exists with the runway show to make a greater whole, and lives well on its own.
I recently listened to GmbH: An Anthology of Music for Fashion Shows 2016–2023 Vol. 1. The first track Welt am Draht, inspired by the homonymous sci-fi movie, is definitely a standout. What aspects of the movie prompted the creation of this track?
The Fassbinder film has long been a favourite, so when Benjamin and Serhat wanted to reference the film, we were thrilled.  The moody elegance within a dystopian, tech-paranoid sci-film world is an easy take-away to love, but also all those beautiful shots with reflections and mirrors, prompting us to contemplate the basis of our own reality and our construction of self, abstractly in any collective or individual sense. 
Welt am Draht has an ominous feel to it, almost as if we were transported to “a distorted world of computer music and rhythm”, to quote your website. How did you achieve this sonic effect?
We invited Khyam Allami to collaborate with us who shared these beautiful recordings he made on the oud, he’s such a great artist.  Farahnaz is working primarily with SuperCollider, a powerful sound synthesis programming environment, which she used to process the instrument and create all these layers of transformation. This piece was also one of the first times we had a really steady rhythm as a basis for a piece, instead of a fleeting theme within a more chaotic or seemingly free rhythmic world — there was something about this moment in time that called for something stoic, and a simulation of a world through algorithmic processes.
With the recent development of AI, rewatching cinematographic pieces such as World on a Wire or The Matrix is increasingly relevant and interesting. How does it feel to be an artist in this era?
As it does in any era:  we are creators and creatures of the present moment.
Throughout history, art and music have always had a direct relationship with the latest technology, and in the end, AI is just another tool made by humans, albeit one with its own specific complex set of ramifications in the arts from research, to creation, to authorship, to legacy. Artists like Holly Herndon and Mat Dryhurst are doing interesting stuff especially on the authorship and rights part, with their opt-out company Spawning AI, which importantly foregrounds consent and provides the means to remove your work from training systems. We need new models to inform the ones we cannot escape.
French philosopher Jacques Attali wrote that ‘music is emblematic of our entire social order’, and that this form of art is able to encapsulate our current socio-economic structures. What do you think about this quote? Do you think your music reflects this historical moment?
Is one able to completely escape the mechanisms of capitalism at play within our society? Our answer would be, probably not.
In his canonised book, Noise, the author analyses western music in historical eras, highlighting how music is bound to societal structures for its production, dissemination and reception, beginning with the ritualised music of aural tradition, to the notated music of specialists, to the focus on fidelity in the age of recorded music.  It’s an old book now, but he accurately highlights how through this kind of era-specific entanglement, music is prophetic and can either be liberating or dystopian (the non-sexy kind), and we strive for the former, to influence and transpire different modalities of being together in the margins and liminal spaces of becoming.
Does your band’s name Labour also reflect a particular political standing or commitment?
Our project name comes from this idea of für sich werden or coming-to-be for one’s self and realising a full human potential within this lifetime.  For the sake of ourselves, the planet and humanity at large during rampant globalisation, scarcity, poverty, destruction, ravaging neo-capitalism and draconian austerity measures, we align with ideas like Radical Intimacy as defined by the author Sophie K Rosa to evoke the necessity of caring for each other beyond the confines of an imposed patriarchal order and its deranged values.
Your song White Noise was another personal favourite from the Anthology. Here, you blend white noise sounds with motifs from a 16th century Scottish composer. What a cool experiment! How did it come about? Who were your inspirations for this piece?
Thanks!  We had this old LP of William Byrd music from a good friend’s father who was building harpsichords for a living, a long time ago.  One piece we really liked, and ended up paraphrasing in part, is called John Come Kiss Me Now. This 16th century piece had a curious journey of appropriation:  what began as a social song to promote playful sexual expression was later taken by the church to promote piety (like, come kiss the hand of God out of devotion), only later finding its way into a chamber music setting as serious music.  This journey resonated analogously to GmbH’s ideas of reappropriation for their White Noise collection.
In our piece, the harpsichord sections are juxtaposed with the RnB section, original music inspired by TLC and Missy Elliott, and swells of actual white noise serve as moments of transition, of becoming.
In an interview you mentioned that your band’s mission statement is to embrace the darkness — what does this statement mean for Labour?
Amidst all the technique and research, we strive to uncover something psychic or spiritual or related, something hidden, an excavation if you will, in a process of making malleable our own constructed-ness.  This sentiment can be discovered as a through-line in works of ours such as next time, die consciously, nine-sum sorcery, sungazing, and so on.
And although we sympathise with the idea of the band — specifically its connotations of shared endeavour, shared spirit i.e., banding together, and the potential social experiment along the same lines as a collective — since releasing albums, singles and making concerts is only part and not all of our endeavours, we consider Labour a sonic duo, rather than a band.
At the moment, you are based in Berlin. Are there particular features of the music environment in Berlin that especially appeal to you? How have they influenced your music?
We’ve always identified with and participated in alternative cultural practices here which constantly take new forms, having a recent historical precedent in phenomena including the draft-dodging haven of Berlin during the Cold War, to squatting culture and the radical experimentation with urban space on a largely DIY level where the unconforming and free-spirited could create temporary utopias and redefine norms of every kind.  This is one part of the historical precedent for current club culture which cumulatively provides an incredible backdrop for artists in Berlin; here people are constantly exploring and  living out experimental lifestyle practices, which can of course be destructive or hedonistic but can also be transformative and quite positive in a radical sense.
What future projects are you most excited about?
We have an ongoing collaboration with the family of Doudou N’Diaye Rose, the late, great Senegalese percussionist, and we can finally make a concert here in Berlin in August!  The details of this should be announced soon.
Separately, in the autumn we have a new work incorporating a temporal scale and physical format that’s new for us, the title of which reflects a kind of observation if not a warning:  more heat than light.